For its beauty and age, I love this image I saw at the Met's Spring exhibit The Tale of Genji A Japanese Classic Illuminated. It has held a compelling space for sleep for generations.
Sleep, soft and deep—rich with dreams, shredded by nightmares or dreamless. How much do you get? How much do you need? How much do you value it? Do you know how your skin craves it?
Whether your concern is cleansing your skin through the adequate release of toxins, relieving stress and inflammation, pulling away from the edge of irritability that is the hallmark of poor sleep, slowing down the aging process, treating acne, wrinkles, or peace of mind, sleep is a good place to start, because even small changes in habits can make a significant difference.
These past two weeks I spent time with many friends and relatives in London and Paris. To maximize our time together I went from eight to five hours of sleep a night. I happily traded 45 hours of sleep because conversations with my aunts into the late quiet and those extra long walks with friends are rare treasures. But the lack of sleep combined with jet lag I pretended didn't exist, and a dependence on several cups of assam tea a day for fuel made my nerves buzz. My body felt and my skin looked tired and old. So this post is as much for me as it is for anyone. I'm getting back on the wagon. Proper sleep is the vacation after the vacation and we can vacate our earthly senses every night. What a treat. Come, we will renew in no time.
I used to love staying up very late to listen to quiet. Aside from leaving me tired during the day, by my mid forties, I realized it was impacting my physical and mental health. At the end of last summer, I made it a point to prioritize sleep--to get eight hours (from 10pm to 6 am) no matter what. I wanted to know if it would make a difference. It really did. After a few weeks I was able to perceive everything more sharply and with greater subtlety. In terms of creativity, this meant glimpsing the fullness of life because perception is the tool that shows us what resonates, where to go. As a physical being, I felt more tranquil: my patience with myself and with others ran thicker. With an increasingly muted critical eye I saw myself refreshed and resilient. I felt it too. This is what I would have expected from regular sessions of sensory deprivation in a float tank, which has always intrigued me. But as usual the best things in life are simple right? I found what I was seeking in a good night's sleep.
Hormones & Repair--those messengers that communicate health when in balance won’t balance without enough sleep, which negatively affects the skin among other things. Our skin is the organ that faces the outside world and shields even more delicate organs. Think of it as a noble warrior as it takes its place last in the nocturnal healing line. After all the major organs have been tended to the skin can enjoy its moment of repair, detoxification, and attention. If there isn't enough sleep, the skin will soldier on (weakened) without assistance. Suboptimal hormonal health and no time for repair is an unfortunate one-two punch to skin health and beauty. All the beautiful skincare products in the world come second to sleep. Products made with energetic ingredients that resonate with and help the body can be used to beautiful effect, but they cannot fix (at least not for long) what sleep has not blessed.
Sleep, the gut microbiome, and skin This is a reciprocal relationship: healthy sleep promotes a healthy and diverse intestinal microbiome, which in turn keeps circadian rhythms regulated. Better gut microbiome equals better sleep equals better skin. Keep this in mind because you are bound to hear about this more in the fullness of time, and there will be choices to make. Along with the growing research on the microbiome, products designed to alter the intestinal microbiota and affect sleep are currently being developed and will be marketed soon. You can read more on my take on recent microbiome r&d here, but I do think the gut-sleep relationship is one that is worth managing through sleep and diet first.
From those among us who would do anything to escape the nightmare of insomnia or interrupted sleep (hello new parents, I remember what is was like to feel woolly brained and watch tracers float through my hallways along with other hallucinations) to those who would like to improve the quality or duration of sleep, there are always small or more significant ways we can improve the experience. Here are a few ideas.
A hot shower, or better yet, 20 minutes in a hot bath of epsom salts. What follows? Renewal and a delicious tiredness.
Frankincense, lavender, rose in what ever form to promote rest and calm.
A darker room to enhance hormonal balance. Sleeping in the dark can enhance progesterone production. From our mid thirties on, women's progesterone levels begin to decrease. Progesterone is not called the beauty hormone for nothing...more on this in another post.
Flower essences A little goes a long way. White chestnut, cherry plum, impatiens? Take your pick, do the research and see which essence might fit you perfectly, and don't hesitate to combine them.
No or low EMF pollution where you sleep. If you can’t help that, try grounding down and take nice deep breaths. Make a point of keeping your phone in another room while you sleep. When the deep healing is happening, we don't need the signals, which create another toxic load to process.
If you practice yoga, avoid backbends as they activate the sympathetic system, if you can't avoid them, then finish up with forward bends.
Adequate amounts of magnesium in your diet.
Try to be asleep between 10pm and 2am because sleep during these hours are particularly rewarding and detoxifying. These sleeping hours are literally worth more than sleep at other times. Also try to sleep and wake around the same time every day.
Keep it as quiet as possible. For some city dwellers, this is tough. See if you can come up with a plan to fall back to sleep should a siren or an intoxicated soul on a soap box tear through your sleep—this is hard, I know. That is why you must plan for it. At the very least, try to resist the temptation to pick up your smartphone, if it is still in your room.
Making the most of it.
Review the day’s events, especially the emotions, especially the difficult emotions. Note them and feel them with more detachment than when you lived them the first time around. This is a way to process emotions and release them so that they don't clutter your dream life or accumulate to negatively affect your waking hours. After you've reimagined what was less than pleasant, take a moment to imagine what you would like to feel. I think of it as customizing your night flight.
When I am really tired and I am looking at very few hours of sleep—I tell myself just as I am drifting off that no matter the number of hours, this will be a sleep of a hundred years. Whenever I remember to do this, I'm better off for the little bit of programming.
Drinks for the wind down. Skip the alcohol--especially if you suffer insomnia. Try: Ashwagandha--an adaptogenic that is readily available. Lavender tea, peppermint tea. Something soothing. We all have a fave.
Enjoy your sleep for now. Of course there are those who thrive and require little sleep. It seems that they are able to run a lot of energy through the body, which elicits the question: what are the alternatives to sleep? Are they as satisfying as sleep? It is said that we travel interdimensionally during sleep. Why would we let go of that? But at the very least, how do we renew through the day so the wear and tear on our bodies and minds is minimal? I am researching and experimenting and just maybe, I'll have something to write and report on in the future. For now, I sleep for clarity and luxury.